Inconvenient Truths about Maple Leaf

The Maple Leaf Music Venue and Performing Arts Center is to be a Brown County, IN government-owned and managed venue.  It is a 12.5 million dollar facility. The money is borrowed by the county.  Any profits plus revenue from the Brown County Innkeepers Tax is used as collateral.  Taxpayers are paying for costs that have included an initial  $30K legal bill.

Fast-Track Process

April 9. 2017. Commissioner Diana Biddle and Councilman Keith Baker attend a presentation conducted by innkeeper and CVC Member Barry Herring that introduces a concept for the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center.

June 20, 2017. A group led by local innkeepers propose a government-owned and managed performing arts center (music venue).

August 22, 2017. Request for Zoning Change, Area Plan Commission, Recommend approval by the Commissioners.

September 6, 2017.  9:00 am Commissioner Meeting. Zoning approved. It was stated that the approval was for zoning and not the project and that public meetings would be held regarding the desirability of the project.

The only official public meetings that our commissioners and council held on this $12.5 million county owned and managed music venue were  to approve the project. 

November 15, 2017. Commissioners approve the project.

November 20, 2017. Council approves project.

Dec 20, 2017. Commissioners pass a final resolution approving the project.

SUMMARY –  Extracted from the following article: Dec 27, 2017. GUEST OPINION: The role of process in the future of Brown County. The Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) project and the process used to fast-track approval may represent a turning point for the future of the county.  

  • In April 2017, owners of hotels and inns, who are also appointed to the Convention and Visitors Commission (CVC) and Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) decide to use the revenue collected from the innkeeper’s tax to invest in an asset that will promote tourism. The Innkeeper’s Tax is a pass-through tax paid by the party renting the overnight accommodations.
  • CVC members are appointed by the county commissioners and council. The CVB is a non-profit organization established to manage tourism related promotion on behalf of the CVC.
  • CVC/CVB members decided on a music venue and performing arts center and also determined the size, location, scope, cost (12.5 million), and overall governance plan for the facility. Given that this investment is expected to result in overnight stays, their businesses will directly benefit from the investment, and the asset values of their establishments will likely increase.
  • Initially, county citizens were told that revenue from the innkeeper’s tax would be used to pay the principal and interest on the mortgage for the venue. Any profits were to be used for community and county infrastructure priorities.  The final terms of the deal are that profits would be used to make the mortgage payment and the revenue from the innkeeper’s tax would only be used if profits were not sufficient to make the payment.
  • A common perception in the county that was reinforced by the president of the county council, may be that the revenue from the innkeeper’s tax is “their (CVC) money.” This inaccurate perception may have contributed to a lack of transparency over the years regarding the management and expenditure of these funds.  This revenue, per statute, is a county asset. Commissioners and Council (elected by citizens) appoint CVC members who are subordinate to the citizens and their elected officials.
  • The approval of a 12.5 million dollar loan using the revenue from the innkeeper’s tax as collateral was approved by the commissioners on Nov 15 and the county council on Nov 20. The commissioners approved another resolution approving the project on Dec 20. In case of default, the venue would become the property of the bank, and per the county council president and the county financial consultant, county taxpayers would not be obligated to assume the liability.
  • No public meetings expressly focused on this important project were scheduled by the commissioners or council before their meetings to approve the project. The League of Women Voters of Brown County offered to facilitate a public meeting to address citizen questions, concerns, and issues regarding the project. Members of the CVC, the CVB and the informal team working on the Maple Leaf project declined to participate, as did several key elected officials.
  • The editor of the only newspaper in the county – The Brown County Democrat, did recuse herself from being the primary reporter because of a conflict of interest — her husband serves on the CVC. The Democrat welcomed opposing opinions in Guest Columns and Letters to the Editor.

More information and references: Maple Leaf Project – For The Record

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